How rural assets can contribute towards net zero

William Hargreaves, who leads the rural agency team for Savills in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire

William Hargreaves, who leads the rural agency team for Savills in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire - Credit: RMG Photography

William Hargreaves from Savills Suffolk explores how farmers and landowners can contribute towards the UK’s environmental goals.

The recent COP26 climate talks have focused everyone’s attention on reducing the world’s carbon footprint and the UK government has made clear it expects agriculture to contribute towards its own environmental goals.

But what potential opportunities does that present for farmers and landowners? 

Rural property 

Let property has long been a provider of income for farms and rural estates. However, changes to energy efficiency rules have led to concerns that landlords may be unable to justify increasingly expensive investment in order to provide energy efficient refurbishment.

One opportunity for some rural landlords is the generation of net zero energy – from biomass boilers supplying energy via local district heating networks through to water-sourced heat pumps in lakes and hydro-power turbines in streams.

Renewable energy 

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Where power generation from renewable assets such as wind and solar exceeds local requirements, it’s possible to supply energy to the grid.

Although this can sometimes be costly, the price of batteries is falling, meaning co-investment in energy storage solutions could be an option to maximise returns.

Electrification of heating and transport is a major goal and energy storage will be essential to smooth out the peaks and troughs of renewable supply. 

Accessing land for renewables will remain a core hurdle, but as agricultural and planning policy evolves to accommodate net zero objectives, more opportunities should become available.

Forestry 

Competition for both existing forestry and for land suitable for tree planting (afforestation) has never been greater, driving up capital values and potentially squeezing long-term investment returns.

Why is the market for forestry so hot? In income terms, the traditional means of creating revenue through the harvesting and trade of timber products remains buoyant.

However, there is also an intensifying trend of new market entrants seeking land so they can plant trees to offset their own carbon emissions – theoretically making forestry both a financial and environmental investment.

Farming – food, fibre and fuel 

Selling carbon stored in agricultural soils is the panacea many farmers are hoping for to replace lost CAP income. However, farming must undertake a significant transformation to make sense of net zero. 

The transition may present options for climate-focused investors to help deliver the infrastructure and technology needed on farms to reduce emissions. But a balance has to be struck so that nature-based solutions don’t undermine our national food security and rural communities.

As supply chains increasingly switch to more sustainable sources, there will be multiple opportunities to grow. A coalition of like-minded growers, for example, would be the most powerful force for change, whilst also ensuring that farming communities are provided a ‘just transition’ in land-based activities.

For advice on the rural sector in Suffolk contact William Hargreaves at Savills on 01473 234802 or WHargreaves@savills.com

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